Wednesday, August 10, 2011
On Wednesday: A Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Plot Summery (MINOR SPOILERS)--Shadow is released from prison to find that his wife and best friend are dead, and he has no job or life to go home to. He is recruited by Mr. Wednesday as an errand boy, and soon discovers that Mr. Wednesday is actually a god. The gods of many religions followed their believers to America, but have since been largely forgotten or ignored. Wednesday's goal is to gather other old school gods to battle the new gods of America--things like credit cards, the internet, and cancer. The story follows Shadow as he observes the ways of gods and ultimately realizes the part he has to play in the scheme of things.
This book requires a good amount of patience on the part of the reader. The plot rambles and sidetracks, and you have to be willing to get through a lot of detail that seems random and unrelated before everything comes together. For a fantasy novel, there isn't much in the way of world building or explaining--it's all showing and little telling. In other word, rarely if ever does a character explain "I Loki. I'm a Norse God."--you have to figure a lot out for yourself or just remain ignorant. I thought about giving up several times, but was intrigued just enough to continue. I'm glad I did, because in the end it was a very rewarding and thought provoking reading experience.
Shadow is a character about whom I have conflicting feelings. Gaiman gives him a minimum of character traits, letting him remain a ghost-like observer rather then an active character for most of the book. He shows few strong reactions to the fantastic things he sees and is told, just going along with everything. At one point another character comments that he doesn't seem very alive, and I'd say that's quite accurate. On one hand I feel that this is a terrible way to portray a main character, but on the other hand I can't think of a better way to tell this particular story. After all, the story is really about the gods. When Shadow did start to show development and liveliness (in the last 100 pages or so) I really found myself liking him. The other characters are extremely intriguing and well written.
Overall, while not a perfect epic reading experience, this book was worth the time I invested in in. It portrays Gods as victims of their believers, and America as a muddled and fascinating mix of cultures. 4.5 stars.